Boredom and failure are not in her vocabulary. Opportunity and exploration, however, are words by which she lives.
“My favorite word is opportunity. I feel like everyone deserves an opportunity. I believe that if people took the opportunities they’re granted, their life could change in one or many ways,” says Karen Banda, a senior at Furr High School. True to her word, she visited nine states and traveled to England this summer.
“There is something about taking these opportunities that made me change the way I see myself and my ability,” reflects Banda.
Touring colleges in the northeast with a group of 80 EMERGE Fellows opened her eyes to the myriad of possibilities at top colleges. “I can go to a top-tier university if I set my mind to it,” Banda proclaims. Hearing firsthand from other first generation and minority students about the opportunities available at Brown and Yale made her realize that, “my family’s finances are not a block in my path.” Staying in the dormitories at Tufts and Columbia as well as touring Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania strengthened her conviction. HISD’s EMERGE program, which aims to help high-performing, low-income students into Ivy League and Tier I colleges, continues to support Banda on her path to college through bi-weekly meetings that address topics such as the college application, college explorations, financial aid, writing effective personal statements, and SAT preparation.
College exploration intertwines with career exploration as Banda points out that being part of GeoFORCE afforded her the chance to “take on the job of a geologist and think like one in the field.” The selective program, which is part of the Jackson School of Geosciences at The University of Texas at Austin, took her on experiential learning field trips to Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. Banda has participated in the program since the summer before high school.
A new addition to Banda’s summer learning is the British American Foundation of Texas’s Junior Achievers Program. DiscoverU, a local non-profit that connects low-income students to Fantastic Learning Opportunities, works closely with EMERGE and provided support throughout the competitive application. She was selected as one of only six students in the state to receive a full scholarship to travel to London, England and where she studied at the American Community School and visited important monuments and museums.
“It’s good to get out of your comfort zone,” Banda says.
She offers the following advice to fellow HISD students. “There are hundreds, if not thousands, of things you can do. If you take your time researching, you could end up finding many opportunities that you didn’t know were there. All you have to do is research. I don’t believe in failure; I believe in start overs. I think that every ‘failure’ someone goes through is a chance to start over or do something different. I believe that if you fall down and ‘fail’ at something, you have to get up and start from the beginning, changing some things you did previously.”